Saving Venice: High-Tech vs. Mother Nature

10 Oct, 2006 By: Michelle Nicolson

Italian government turns to Intergraph's GIS technology to help save historical city from the encroaching sea

It's a race against time and water: Over the next 50 to 100 years, the rising tides of the Adriatic Sea, coupled with the sinking land mass of the African geological plate as it pushes under the European plate, will slowly submerge the city of Venice, Italy. If left alone, Mother Nature will erase centuries of human history, including some of the greatest architectural and artistic achievements of mankind.

But the Italian government has other ideas. In 2003, officials approved a solution to the sinking of Venice, called MOSE (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico or Electromechanic Experimental Module). The strategy was proposed by CVN (Consorzio Venezia Nuova), a private consortium consisting of national and local construction and architectural companies.

Sea of Dams
CVN's idea incorporates 78 submerged, mobile dams at the three entrances to the Venetian Lagoon. Similar dams are already at work in other urban areas threatened by water -- notably London and Rotterdam. One major difference is the Italian government's desire to keep the dams from intruding on the natural and architectural beauty of the Venice waterfront. So until they are needed, the dams will lie on the sea floor, filled with water and out of sight.

When the sea tide rises above 110 centimeters, engineers use compressed air to expel the water and activate the dams. The dams rise, thereby preventing the flooding of the lagoon and the city of Venice. Work has already begun, and completion is slated for 2011.

A view of the proposed dam system to prevent flooding of the Venice Lagoon.

CVN and Magistrato alle Acque of Venezia, the government agency in charge of safeguarding and managing Venetian waters, are using a suite of Intergraph solutions in their efforts to protect, manage and maintain the infrastructure of the Venice Lagoon. The organizations are employing Intergraph's photogrammetry hardware and software, as well as geospatial software technologies.

"The city of Venice, its waters and lagoon are regarded by the world as important pieces of history," says Roberto Rosselli, CVN manager of System Informativi (IT) Group. "The management of the infrastructure and the issues relating to the management of Venetian waters and the protection of the city require accurate and current data and the technologies necessary for managing the area."

New Technology, Old Problem
Like many organizations, CVN was using a variety of software packages to manage spatial data, and facing the compatibility issues that resulted. Traditionally, the only way to move data from one application to another was through translation, which can lead to multiple copies of out-of-date files in multiple locations. Given the various government and private organizations involved in this project, the team looked for a solution that would prevent this problem.

CVN had used Intergraph's products to manage the full scope of its previous geospatial projects for many years. For the Venice project, CVN incorporated the company's GeoMedia technology to integrate all the project's data: cartographic, GIS, engineering, geomorphological, hydrographic and DTM (digital terrain model). GeoMedia enables the CVN team to incorporate this information from disparate databases into a single GIS environment for viewing, analysis and presentation. That capability allowed the team to create a central geospatial database from the original data. The key advantage is that GeoMedia's data server technology supports open standards, providing direct access to all major geospatial/CAD data formats and to industry-standard relational databases.

GeoMedia's GeoDB component helps the team generate dynamically particular thematic maps, classifying them by querying the central database in a native way. But communicating this information to the multiple parties involved is also a key step. So the team uses GeoMedia's WebMap software to distribute all project information across the Internet, so all team members have easy access.

A screenshot of GeoMedia showing the natural topography of the Venice Lagoon.

The Venice project is far from completion. Nonetheless, it's already clear that CVN's use of this new technology could play a large role in saving some of humankind's oldest treasures.

About the Author: Michelle Nicolson

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